'This is your land, travel it'

Moeketsi Mosola (34) is the new CEO of South African Tourism. Be it nature, culture or sports, the sector is booming and ever-evolving.

Mosola has been working with SA Tourism as its chief operating officer since August 2001.
Prior to that, he worked for the government as chief director of tourism development. He answers 10 questions from the Mail & Guardian Online.

1. What is your favourite destination in South Africa and why? What is your least favourite place?
South Africa is so beautiful that I cannot choose one favourite place. It all depends on the experience you want to have. Last year, I wanted a beach experience, so I went to KwaZulu-Natal. The previous year, I wanted to enjoy the mountains, so I went to the Drakensberg. I don’t have a least favourite place. I love this country so much, I would go everywhere.

So would you recommend tourists visit Hillbrow at 7pm?
Absolutely, Hillbrow is fantastic. I take my wife there to go and party. I would recommend people to take precautions like in any other city in the world.

2. High levels of crime, for example, in South Africa’s cities often contribute to a negative perception of the country. How does SA Tourism deal with this?
South African cities are no different from other cities in the world. We are dealing with two aspects here: perception and reality. It is not my job to get to people’s dinner tables and change their view of the world.

Our job is to tell [the world] what South Africa is all about. Yes, we are facing challenges like HIV/Aids, crime and poverty. We are robustly saying, this is what we are dealing with, and our visitors admire and respect that. It makes them grow as human beings to see these challenges.

We will use reality and not propaganda to target perceptions. We show people reality and hope they will change their view.

3. What has 10 years of democracy done for tourism in South Africa?
It has given South Africans the right to claim what is rightfully theirs. Apartheid made people feel like they did not belong here. Democracy has said: “This is your land, travel it.”

Tourism has played an important part in breaking barriers and stereotypes. It has encouraged South Africans to interact and learn from each other.

4. Has democracy attracted a higher number of international travellers?
There has been a major increase of foreign visitors from 1994 to 2004, but that is not necessarily because this country is a democracy now. People do not just come to South Africa because of democracy. There are still many tourists who will not travel to South Africa even though there is democracy.

Travellers are selfish and go to places where they can get the best experience for their money. Safety and security are major factors in that decision. People look for places that are stable, democratic and economically viable.

5. Why is South Africa not a backpackers’ paradise?
South Africa is by nature of its location an expensive destination. You will still have to buy a ticket from Europe to get here, which will be the most expensive part of the trip.

But Australia is filled with European backpackers and is even more expensive than South Africa.
For us, tourism is business. We are trying to extract value and we focus on where the value is, and that is not with the backpacker. We are not targeting the backpacker; we aim at the older people—say 40 and above. When you have limited resources like our country has in terms of tourism, then you focus where the [big] fish are. 

6. What does tourism contribute to the South African economy?
A lot. Tourism makes up 6,8% of the total GDP [gross domestic product], which is quite significant. It contributes R103-billion to the economy every year—R51-billion from international visitors and R49-billion from the domestic market. It is huge.

Tourism has created a massive number of jobs and there is still a lot of room for growth; this is just the tip of the iceberg.

7. To what extent is the sector regulated when it comes to black economic empowerment (BEE) or previously disadvantaged communities benefiting from tourism?
There is no strict regulation. South Africa is a free-market economy. There is no regulation [to] what extent communities should benefit from tourism—that is purely a voluntary process. The sector and the government are working on a scorecard for BEE, which will be published in December.

8. The sector looks very white. Are you doing anything to change that?
Yes, the transformation of the industry has been slow, and it has been too shallow. I think the industry has agreed to speed up that process.

The sector simply has to recognise that opportunities for South Africans need to be created, and that the benefits are flowing back to all South Africans. If this does not happen, we fail in executing the responsibility towards our people.

Transformation is not about replacing white people with black people. It is about creating a solid skills base. Transformation starts with education. There is massive skills development taking place. We now have over 55 000 interested students in middle and high school.

All universities in South Africa offer undergraduate and graduate programmes, master’s [degrees] and PhDs in tourism. And this ball just started rolling in the past three years.

Black money in the sector seems to belong to the black elite. Or is that a false perception, and is the poor majority also benefiting from the money made in tourism?
I do not understand this fascination about this black elite. I do not know why it is a problem when black people get rich. In any capitalistic society, you will find elite.

The most important thing is that people who are getting rich in this country, unlike in the past, share that wealth with the community. They put money into schools and communities. And these people are not looking for good publicity; they do it because they care. 

9. It must be a big challenge for SA Tourism to have the Soccer World Cup here in 2010?
We are looking at the World Cup slightly differently. We want to improve the global competitiveness of South Africa as a destination. That is my personal focus. We see the cup as a milestone, to achieve what we were going to achieve anyway. The World Cup is just an accelerator to improve our competitiveness. It is not an end in itself; it is a means of getting to that end faster. 

What will it take to get South Africa ready?
We face the problem of flying in 400 000 people from around the world within 32 days. We will have to upgrade our air capacity. Some of the cities that will host the World Cup probably do not even have enough hotel-room capacity today.

Then there is the question of distribution. We will have to make sure that that is done correctly. And we want to make these games accessible to everyone and not just to the elite, so we will have to think up a pricing scheme, or develop a way to make the games affordable for the less fortunate—like what is happening now at the Post Office, where people can start saving for 2010.

It is also about teaching people to be responsible. If you want to watch the games, you must be wise with your money.

10. Nature is a big part of South Africa’s attractiveness, but tourism is not necessarily good for nature. How does SA Tourism handle this dilemma?
On a government level, tourism and environment are combined in the same department. We have one of the best-regulated mechanisms when it comes to development in our country.

Take, for example, environmental impact assessments. Before any development takes place, the impact on the environment is studied to make sure that this development does not take place at the expense of the environment.

We pride ourselves to be one of the best in the world when it comes to conservation and biodiversity management. We have a deeper understanding that our natural assets are to be conserved and preserved for the future generation. We understand that if we want to develop tourism, we will have to develop it responsibly.

Equally, we will not allow a situation where you have so many beautiful things to look at, but the people who live around them are so poor. There must be a balance.

Is there a certain strategy to promote this form of tourism? Communities that offer tourist attractions often do not have the money or knowledge to market themselves.
We do not promote products; that is not our job. We promote experiences and we do promote eco-tourism as an experience. But the job of marketing lies with the companies themselves.

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